Summer, By Edith Wharton
"Summer", by Edith Wharton. Short trailer for feature in progress directed by Carl Sprague. Principal Imaging by Kevin Sprague. Featuring Ardis Barrow and Tom Frelinghuysen. (C)2009 Kevin Sprague
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Added: 5 years ago
Summer is a dark romance of sexual awakening and the journey from passion to love. Set in a remote New England hilltown just before the First World War, the novel is one of Edith Wharton's greatest and most original – the only one centered on an explicit physical relationship. She called it “the hot Ethan Frome”.
The action unfolds from the viewpoint of Charity Royall – just turned twenty and overflowing with rootless, unformed desires. Born into poverty in a mountain lumber camp, Charity is taken in as a child by the local lawyer, Mr. Royall. After Mrs. Royall's early death, Charity is left to grow up alone with Royall, who finds himself increasingly attracted to his home-grown beauty.
Then Lucius Harney, a city boy fresh from architecture school in Boston, walks into Charity's refuge in the dusty village library. Lucius is attractive, intelligent, and well-connected. He falls for Charity on sight.
The story spirals in ever-tighter circles – Charity's wary journey to adulthood, the bitter frustrations of her ambiguous relationship with Royall, and the lush, blossoming dream she shares with Lucius. The turning point comes among the crowds, fireworks and bunting of a feverish 4th of July celebration. Encompassing all is the cycling backdrop of New England seasons – spring into summer, fall into winter. Summer ends so that it will come again.
Edith Wharton's 'Summer' comes home
By Sharon Smullen, Special to Berkshires Week
Posted: 08/26/2010 10:58:24 AM EDT
LENOX -- It's the summer of "Summer" at the Mount, and Wharton Salon theater director Catherine Taylor-Williams has brought Edith Wharton's steamy romantic novella to the stage at the author's storied Lenox estate.
Set in the Berkshires in 1890, Wharton wrote "Summer" (which she referred to as the "hot Ethan") in France in 1917 as a counterpart to the earlier, better known "Ethan Frome," once titled "Winter." It tells of the passionate affair of a young woman, Charity Royall, with a handsome young man above her class, over the course of a relentlessly hot summer.
Fending off unwelcome marriage intentions from her guardian, she finds herself competing for her lover with a more "suitable" match and embarks on a journey to come to terms with her new situation -- and herself.
On a steamy August afternoon under a welcoming shade tree by the Mount's Stables Auditorium theater, Taylor-Williams and actors Diane Prusha and Alyssa Hughlett took time from rehearsals to talk about the production, part of the Wharton Salon's second year.
"I was very attracted to the story," said Taylor-Williams. "It's about passion, about forgiveness and growing up. It's got beautiful exposition and poetic descriptions of the Berkshires."
"[Wharton] tells of the blossoming and coming of age, the opening of the sexuality and sensuality of a young woman through nature that is just exquisite," added Prusha. "It's like poetry, and it's so real."
The stage adaptation is one of many that Dennis Krausnick (husband of Shakespeare & Company founder Tina Packer) wrote for Shakespeare & Company while the troupe's tenure at The Mount.
"It's one of Dennis's best adaptations," Taylor-Williams said. "He was able to capture Edith's voice in a unique way."
While the Wharton Salon marks a new era of theatrical collaboration at the Mount, it brings back many longtime Shakespeare & Company members such as Taylor-Williams and Prusha, whose daughter Rory Hammond was raised at the site and now appears alongside her in "Summer."
Rory's father is fellow Shakespeare & Company actor Michael Hammond.
"For me, having been here the first time, I see it as a coming home," said Prusha, who plays several pivotal roles in the production. "I love doing Edith's work and keeping it alive.
"I feel like I grew up here. I first came here when I was 23 -- I've been here for most of my adult life."
In contrast, both the experience and Wharton's story are new to Alyssa Hughlett, who plays the principal character, Charity. Originally from Texas, Hughlett captures the rebellious, restless nature of a young Berkshire girl unhappy with her lot and locale.
"I feel I'm actually being given the chance to blossom into Wharton," she said. "It's a story that is very familiar of how I grew up and how many young women grew up."
Adam Gauger, Reilly Hadden, Miles Herter and Robert Serrell also appear, with live violin music composed and performed by Alexander Sovronsky. Carl Sprague, who is adapting "Summer" as a screenplay, designed the sets, and Arthur Oliver created the costumes.
Last year's inaugural Wharton Salon sold-out staging of "Xingu" in the Drawing Room of the main residence got the company, and Taylor-Williams' directing career, off to a rousing start -- much to the delight of The Mount's executive director, Susan Wissler.
"It was a step forward and a real addition to bring Wharton's work back in a theater piece to the Mount," said Wissler. "In Catherine and her group we have found the perfect collaborator.
"The public response to it has been very warm and very positive, and it's just one more way that we can honor Wharton that has life and breath to it."
Compared to last year's comedy, this year's selection offers a more thoughtful and intense look at both the joys and the social, economic and moral constraints affecting young love, combined with an unblinking look at the realities -- and consequences -- of unfettered passion.
"It was something that seemed in my mind to belong here at the Mount," said Taylor-Williams, "first and foremost as a way of introducing people who may not know Wharton's work to her stories so that it expands the meaning of what being here is all about."
Summer is a novel by Edith Wharton published in 1917 by Charles Scribner's Sons. The story is one of only two novels to be set in New England by Wharton, who was best known for her portrayals of upper-class New York society. The novel details the sexual awakening of its protagonist, Charity Royall, and her cruel treatment by the father of her child, and shares many plot similarities with Wharton's better-known novel, Ethan Frome. Only moderately well received when originally published, Summer has had a resurgence in critical popularity since the 1960s.
Eighteen-year–old Charity Royall is bored with life in the small town of North Dormer. She is the town librarian and ward of North Dormer’s premier citizen, Lawyer Royall. While working at the library, Charity meets visiting architect Lucius Harney.
When Harney’s cousin, Miss Hatchard, with whom he is boarding, leaves the village, Harney becomes Mr. Royall’s boarder, and Charity his companion while he explores buildings for a book on colonial houses he is preparing. Mr. Royall, who once tried to force his way into Charity's bedroom after his wife's death, and later asked her to marry him, notices their growing closeness. He tries to put a stop to it by telling Harney he can no longer accommodate him in his house. Harney makes it appear as though he has left town, but only moves to a nearby village and continues to communicate with Charity.
On a trip to Nettleton, Harney kisses Charity for the first time and buys her a present of a brooch. Afterwards they run into a drunken Mr. Royall, who is accompanied by prostitutes. Mr. Royall verbally abuses Charity, causing her to become overwhelmed with shame. After the trip, Charity and Harney begin a sexual relationship.
At a ceremony during North Dormer’s Old Home Week, Charity sees Harney with Annabel Balch, a society girl whom she envies. Afterwards, Charity goes to the abandoned house where she and Harney usually meet. Mr. Royall unexpectedly shows up and, when Harney arrives, Mr. Royall asks him sarcastically if that is where he intends to live after he marries Charity. After an angry Mr. Royall leaves, Harney promises Charity that he is going to marry her, but that he has to go away for a while first. After Harney has left the town, Charity’s friend Ally lets slip that she saw him leave with Annabel Balch, to whom he is engaged to be married. Charity writes a letter to Harney telling him to do the right thing and marry Annabel.
Charity has been feeling unwell, so she goes to Dr. Merkle ("a plump woman with small bright eyes, an immense mass of black hair coming down low on her forehead, and unnaturally white and even teeth"), who confirms her suspicion that she is pregnant. After the examination Dr. Merkle charges five dollars, and Charity, not having enough money to cover it, has to leave the brooch Harney gave her. When she gets home she reads a letter from Harney that makes her realize that, despite his promises, he is unlikely to break his engagement to Miss Balch.
Charity decides she cannot stay at home and so makes her way to the mountain, intending to look for her mother. On the way she sees the minister, Mr. Miles, and her friend Liff Hyatt. They are on their way to the mountain because Charity’s mother is dying. When they arrive, Charity’s mother is already dead, and the three of them bury her.
Charity stays on the mountain overnight, where she sees the abject poverty and resolves not to raise her child there. She decides that she is going to be a prostitute, and with the money she earns she will hire someone to take care of her child. On the way home she meets Mr. Royall, who has come to pick her up. He offers to marry her.
After Charity marries Mr. Royall in Nettleton, she realizes that he knows she is pregnant and has married her only to protect her. He gives her money to buy clothes, but instead she goes to Dr. Merkle to get her brooch back. Dr. Merkle has heard of her marriage to Mr. Royall and demands a large sum for returning the brooch. Rather than paying the money, Charity quickly grabs the brooch and rushes from the office (in a few editions of the novel, she leaves the money with Merkle).
Charity writes a last letter to Harney, telling him about her marriage, and finally returns to North Dormer to live with Mr. Royall.